FOXBOROUGH — When Isaac Sopoaga arrived in New England just a few hours after finding out he’d been traded from the Eagles to the Patriots, he called it a “dream come true.”
After a whirlwind week with his new team, one that saw him cram for the game against the Steelers (he played 26 of 75 defensive snaps last Sunday), Sopoaga said the reality is as good as he expected.
“It’s a great experience, a great, great feeling to be here with the New England Patriots,” Sopoaga said. “I came here for a visit coming out of college [in 2004] and I told them, ‘I’m ready. New England Patriots, they’ve won the big one.’ And now I’m finally with the team. It’s really a great honor to be here.”
Born in American Samoa, Sopoaga has a pleasant demeanor and has seemingly had a smile on his face since the moment he arrived.
Asked about having to put in overtime to prepare for his first game with his new team, Sopoaga explained that it was necessary.
“It wasn’t really a hassle or stress. We’re all men and this is my 10th year in the league, even though this is my third family [team],” he said. “As a father, you have to put your mind-set at what you must do in order for you to take care of your family, so that’s the kind of spirit that I had last week that made it easier for me and made it easier for me to go through meetings and practice and get to know my new brotherhood.”
Andre Carter, who returned to the Patriots a couple of days before Sopoaga, was in his fourth year with the 49ers when Sopoaga was drafted by the team. He’s happy to be sharing a locker room once again with his formerly quiet teammate.
“Isaac just brings that passion, he brings a lot of passion,” Carter said. “I always joke with him because when he came in he kept to himself and now he’s more vocal, and I was like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ But I’m sure he says the same about me because I was kind of quiet early in my career.”
Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano, who still has veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to mentor him in the meeting room, though they are both on injured reserve, started learning from Sopoaga right away.
“He knows a lot of football. They might do it a different way somewhere else, but a lot of things are all relative,” Vellano said. “He has a good mind-set too, he’s really upbeat and positive. I love playing next to him. He has great energy.”
As the debate continues about hazing and the NFL culture in light of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation with the Dolphins, Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater gave some thoughtful answers about what constitutes team-building and what’s taking things too far.
“There’s definitely a fine line,” Slater said. “Case by case, every individual is different. With one guy you may be able to push certain buttons, and with another guy maybe you can’t push those same buttons. You have to be sensitive and in-tune to who it is that you’re dealing with, what teammate it is, and obviously your relationship with every guy is different.”
Slater went on to say that since Julian Edelman lives with him, their relationship is different than Slater’s might be with another player in the locker room, someone he doesn’t know as well.
And as one, Slater knows the captains are in part responsible for making sure things stay on the up and up.
“I think that’s part of our responsibility, for sure,” he said. “I don’t care if you’ve been in this league 20 years or you’ve been in this league three weeks. We respect everybody here and that’s important to us. We respect everybody here because we’re all here for the same reason, trying to accomplish the same goal. Respect is a huge thing for us.
“I think we have a locker room with a lot of respect. I’m not saying that we don’t have our fun, because there’s a time and a place for that, but we always do it within the boundaries of respect.”
At the end of training camp every year, Patriots rookies get creative haircuts from the veterans, though if a player has dreadlocks he’s been growing for years, the veterans will allow him to get his eyebrows shaved off instead.
Getting it right
The Patriots are 10-3 in the first game off their bye with Bill Belichick as coach. The last loss came in 2011 in Pittsburgh . . . With last Sunday’s win over the Steelers, the Patriots ran their record in November since 2001 to 36-13 (.735). Over that span, they’ve gone undefeated in four Novembers, including 3-0 last year.